In a corporate environment, the MIS department is tasked with responding to computer crashes as quickly as possible in order to keep user downtime to an absolute minimum.
Should the "virtual MIS department" for a homebased business have the same responsibilities? According to Ray, unless your business would suffer tremendous losses from unscheduled computer downtime, keeping your IT consultant on call for after-hours or weekend visits would be prohibitively expensive. "If you're a normal 9-to-5 business, emergency on-call service is an expense you can really do without. I've found it very rare for a computer to simply break down."
Ray compares IT consultants who offer 24/7 on-call service to manufacturers who sell consumers costly extended warrantees with the purchase of a telephone or other product, suggesting you can head off computer emergencies by scheduling regular maintenance of your systems-during normal business hours.
If you're running a business where a midnight computer crash would spell disaster, you have several options for after-hours tech support. Ranging from most to least expensive, you could put in an emergency contingency clause in your consultant's proposal or service contract, making it mandatory for the ITC to provide 24-hour on-call service at a specified rate. Again, if you don't stand to lose a lot of money from a computer crash, it may not make sense to pay the extra charge for this kind of emergency or on-call service.
There are also several 24-hour tech support hotlines, which, for a relatively small fee (far less than an unscheduled 2AM visit by your ITC), talk you through the process of diagnosing and repairing software crashes.
Finally, some consultants with nervous clients have taken to building their own Web site with a FAQ section where the business owner can go during non-business hours to find answers.
Building a good working relationship with a tech consultant provides much more than just advice on your next computer purchase. It also offers you something you can't buy in any store: peace of mind.